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Places you’ll want to avoid in 2019

In this edition of Mercy Traveller, Philip Maher warns against travelling to places plagued by human rights atrocities and conflict

As we enjoy our peaceful lives in Wellington County, we are well aware that the world is not all sweetness and light.

Turmoil is bubbling up beyond our pastoral borders to create misery on a scale that most of us can only imagine. If you’re looking for predictions on the best dancing cat videos for 2019, this is probably not the column for you. News media give their predictions about politicians and celebrities to watch in 2019. What about countries to watch in this New Year?

We can sit in our happy homes in Guelph, but the world is now completely connected, and a problem in one country usually ends up on our borders. It would be wise to understand at least one of these places in more than simply a cursory way.

Here is my short list.  

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, continues to be caught in turmoil. The latest is a major outbreak of Ebola in the east that has killed more than 500 people so far. I have driven the muddy, almost impassable hills of this region. The roads are like the politics – rough at the best of times. Given the approximately 100 armed groups in the area, it is a significant challenge for medical staff to operate.

However, they do, or at least they try.

The humanitarian catastrophe now engulfing 20 million people in Yemen has taken on a heightened profile with the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi. His death brought focus to how the west has furthered, perhaps unintentionally, the suffering in Yemen by supporting some countries in the region. It seems that we only take notice when someone living in the west is murdered. Then we begin asking questions about our role in Yemen.  Everyone agrees that it is one of the worse humanitarian catastrophes today. At some point, I run out of words to describe the horrors that people caught in conflicts like this are suffering.

No list of places to watch would be complete without mentioning the seemingly endless misery for more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who are camped in southern Bangladesh. Attempts to return refugees to their homeland of Myanmar (also known as Burma) have utterly failed. Colleagues on the ground tell me of the harsh conditions for those who have been chased from their homes. Most fled having seen family members killed and raped. As a result, trauma courses through the veins of everyone. There is currently no end in sight. Rohingya refuse to return, saying it means certain death. Who can blame them?

A common theme to these complex humanitarian disasters is that humans have mostly created them. They are the result of man-made conflict. As Canadians, we can only handle so much. When we feel the world is spinning out of control, our understandable reaction is to throw up our hands in exasperation—“What can I do?” But these problems end up on our border with global insecurity, violence, volatile financial markets or waves of refugees who have no place to go. Not to mention a river of pain for those suffering.

My wish in this new year for my friends and neighbours in Guelph is that each of us would take on at least one of these causes, or another issue of your choice. Decide to be a change agent. At the very least, write your MP, or support a humanitarian organization that is working to ease the suffering of families and children caught in humanitarian quagmires around the world.

Lest you think it’s all bad news, recent peace talks in South Sudan have brought great optimism to the streets of that country. It turns out we can find middle ground. Nobody says it’s easy. But we have to keep trying.

I know I will have a Happy New Year living in Canada. But I hope we will all give a thought to those living in countries gripped by poverty and conflict.


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About the Author: Philip Maher

Philip Maher is a consultant and photojournalist. He has managed international communication projects for more than 20 years, taking him to more than 80 countries. His twitter is @mercytraveller.
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